Friday, February 1, 2013

The 13.5 nanometer Physical Cliff?

As SPIE Extreme Lithography IV approaches will the EUV lithography program fall off a physical cliff?

SPIE is the International Society of Optics and Photonics. Its membership is comprised of engineers who research the scientific manipulation and applications of light. On February 24-28 in San Jose, CA, a large contingent of SPIE membership will meet to discuss current progress on an exotic EUV (Extreme Ultra Violet) light source scheduled for implementation in next generation, nanoscale computer chip manufacturing. For those outside the semiconductor industry, EUVL (Extreme Ultraviolet Lithography) is a next generation, extremely short wavelength light source (13.5 nanometers) providing improved lithographic capability to print ever smaller, nanometer scale transistor circuit patterns on computer chips. The time and expense invested in the development of EUV lithography spans many years and totals billions of dollars.   Recently, a few individuals (very few) have suggested to me that the physics challenges of 13.5 nanometer EUV lithography might be insurmountable and the continuing escalating expenditures to resolve EUV source power, uptime and mask issues (to name a few), will further delay the implementation of a work around strategy to preserve Moore's law.   Moore politics in the semiconductor industry? The recently celebrated investments in ASML by Intel, TSMC and Samsung collectively approximate $6 Billion, the price of a new state of the art wafer fab.  One might ask why not use these funds to build another foundry and utilize existing 193 nanometer manufacturing technology to creatively double or triple pattern DSA (Directed Self Assembly) device designs. This work around scenario might be an alternative in the shorter term but the economics and physics for this argument are not sustainable. At the 2011 EUVL Symposium, Rudy Peeters of ASML presented a compelling illustration (page 5 of his presentation) of the cost reductions attainable with EUV over 193 nanometer lithography. Given the same product (in one of his examples), a 193 nanometer process would entail as many as 5X the number of process steps with a >50% increase in cost.   EUV's superior image resolution and higher k1 value  at 13.5 nanometers extends lithography performance and ultimately reduces cost over time (k1 is a process evaluation coefficient that encapsulates process-related factors). These cost savings estimates are well within the ball park so long as critical EUV performance issues are resolved satisfactorily. Intel, TSMC and Samsung have invested heavily to ensure EUV performs on time. With additional time and expensive fine tuning, ASML will ramp production and Moore's law will again enable a new generation of semiconductor products, funding further R&D.

Is there an impending physical cliff for 13.5 nanometer EUV technology and beyond? Will complex physics issues limit EUV viability?   The semiconductor industry confidently says no and is also in concurrent pursuit of BEUV (Beyond Extreme Ultra Violet) lithography as a follow on evolutionary path.   BEUV 6.7 nanometer technology development will require additional time and investment and will no doubt foment additional engineering debate. Moore's law will be continually pushed to its limits but the current critical focus is on the timely delivery of HVM (High Volume Manufacturing) EUV lithography, and 450mm process/metrology tools. As the EUV program evolves, source designs will undergo modification and upgrades to reach required performance specifications but the over all program is moving forward. Semiconductor front end equipment manufacturers who are not EUV/450mm capable in a timely fashion risk the eventual loss of market share and possible forfeiture of future viability in the semiconductor manufacturing industry.

The key to success in the development of EUVL/BEUVL and related semiconductor technologies is the pooling of knowledge and distribution of R&D investment costs. The semiconductor foundries and consortiums have the capital resource to pursue technology development that can be cost prohibitive to a self funded corporate R&D program. However, collaboration on advanced R&D can be a delicate balancing act between managing intellectual property concerns and promoting the general welfare of a capital intensive industry. An excellent recent example of this concern is the protracted dispute between Apple and Samsung over intellectual property related to smart phone software. In spite of the on-going litigation, Apple A5 and A6 processors are being manufactured in an Austin, Texas wafer fab build by Samsung. Both companies benefit from the arrangement and share a major portion of the smart phone market place while making financial news headlines in the process.

Equally important to the pooling of financial resources is the cross linking of engineering groups collaborating on R&D programs. This interaction reduces development time by eliminating concurrent, redundant development programs and inefficient rediscovery of existing knowledge. As an example, I often recount an experience in which I visited a customer's corporate R&D facility to discuss a deep UV photostabilization application for his process. We began our discussion in the hallway outside his lab.   After a few minutes our discussion attracted the attention of another resident researcher who happened by. Without introduction he stopped and silently listened in on our conversation.  Our discussion began at 320 nanometers, a popular wavelength for photostabilization. We soon realized that a newly proposed process material would better stabilize at a higher wavelength in the 340 nanometer range. We wondered out loud where we might find a 340 nanometer range UV light source. Hearing this, our silent companion beamed a broad smile and blurted out, “I have what you're looking for.  I fabricated a cadmium vapor lamp for an experiment years ago and haven't used it since then. I thought someone might need it one day. It's in my desk, I'll go get it.”   We all laughed to celebrate a very brief but successful collaboration in which my customer discovered the answer to his question was a few doors down the hall from his lab. I didn't sell anything that day but planted the seeds for future collaboration and sales activity.   I often wondered what the collaborative mean free path might have been in that laboratory, and how long it might have taken for my two friends to discover their in house problem and solution without my presence as a catalyst. A good semiconductor industry statistician can probably provide an answer, but that's another story.

Thomas D. Jay
Semiconductor Industry Consultant

The Technology High Ground

For information on the SPIE Advanced Lithography 2013 Extreme Ultraviolet Lithography IV program click on the link below:

For additional information on the recent Intel, TSMC, Samsung investment in ASML, click on one of the referenced Bloomberg New links below:

For streaming updated technology news from Google, scroll to the very bottom of this page.

1 comment :

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Your comments are welcome. I'd like to hear your thoughts and opinions. Many thanks for your readership. - Thomas D. Jay